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Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 16th for Wales and Mexico

On September 16th 1400 AD Owain Glyn Dwr raised the banner of Welsh resistance and a rebellion ensued to make Wales a nation once again. Free from servitude to the English crown and free to make it's own treaties with foreign nations. There exists in Welsh legend the "Mab Darogan" Son of Prophecy who will rise to lead the Brythonic Celts in their time of greatest need. In 1400 Owain was believed to have been that person. His rebellion was successful at first but ultimately failed. His banner is still raised today and the inspiration of his uprising may yet lead to an independent Wales. We shall see but the future is filled with hope.
In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain and placed his brother as King of Spain. The people of Nueva Espana saw an opportunity to overthrow Spanish rule. On September 16th father Hidalgo with his co-conspirators Ignacio Allende and Dona Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, rang the bell of his little church and delivered El Grito de Dolores The rebellion was successful, Mexico was born and all over the world Mexicans celebrate this day and in Mexico city the President rings that same bell used by Father Hidalgo and reads to the crowd El Grito. At the end the crowd erupts with cries of "Viva Mexico"
In Mexico and for Mexicans, the future is filled with hope.
I'm writing this just before I go to work. This is the weekend closest to Mexican Independence day so this is when the fiestas take place. Los Angeles has a large population of native Mexicans and also Chicanos, the descendants of those who were here before the American-Mexican war. the celebration has always been a fun occasion though most of the main streets in and around L.A. get closed down for the parties. This year there will also be protests about Arizona Immigration laws and "Justice for Manuel Jaminez" that I wrote about in my last blog.
There are 5,500 miles between Wales and Mexico. The languages are different, we don't even speak English the same way, but we all have our reasons to protest and we all have very human hopes and dreams on a personal level. For our nations and our peoples, whatever the pain of today, the future is filled with hope.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Riots in Los Angeles

This blog started off as a humorous way to make comparisons between my experiences as a bus driver in South Wales and Los Angeles. I also thought I could spout off a bit at what I perceive as the shortcomings in public transport across two continents. Sometimes things happen that just ain't so funny and this Tuesday saw one of those things. Manuel Jaminez was shot to death by police officers and that's when the shit hit the fan.
Three LAPD officers on bicycles were patrolling the Westlake district of Los Angeles, Manuel Jaminez was weilding a knife. The Los Angeles Times had the story.
For a bit of background; The area where this took place is just to the west of Los Angeles city centre, if you saw the movie "Volcano" you may remember the lake that was boiling at the beginning of the movie. That lake is in the center of McArthur Park. The north edge of the park is 6th street where the riots described in the article took place. There's nothing new in having a riot here, there was one 5 years ago it was reported on Fox news you may notice the phrase  "the marches were peaceful until this evening when the LAPD used force to break up the crowd" That time the demonstration was in support of "Illegal Aliens"
The police officers were from the Rampart division of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) For my friends in Europe, the LAPD is employed and funded by the city of Los Angeles. There are a number of Divisions around the city. Rampart patrols Westlake among other communities and relations between the citizens of these communities and the police department have been strained for many years.
The three officers including the one that fatally shot Jaminez were themselves Hispanic. The situation is a tinderbox. Since Tuesday there have been peaceful marches every night. A shrine has been set up on the spot where he was killed and marchers have been keeping to the side walk and behaving in a generally peaceful manner. however a demonstration is planned for Saturday. that is likely to get out of control. Everyone is fearing the worst and tensions and emotions are running high.
Coming from the United Kingdom where the cops don't carry guns, I know that if someone was stupid enough to attack three cops with a knife, he wouldn't be killed but by the end of it he would wish he was. Here in L.A. rightly or wrongly, this is seen as an attack on a Hispanic community even though the police were of the same background. I refuse to make a judgement, I just do not know all the facts, I do know that I'll be in work tomorrow trying to do my part to keep the bus drivers and their passengers safe. I'll be one of those detouring the buses around any disturbance. I'm safe enoughbecause I operate from the main headquarters building and anyway, I'm hoping that everything will be relatively peaceful but I'm prepared for the worst.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

To Strike or not to Strike

The United Transportation Union called a strike vote and the vote was 87.5% in favor of a strike. That doesn't mean a strike is going to happen. It just means that at this point the Union can continue negotiating with the management knowing they have this loaded gun up their sleeve. The percntage may look high but in the past the percentage has been well into the 90's. members of the Union will vote for strike action though. To do otherwise would leave the Union almost weapomless in the face of management. An overwhelming majority is essential but the fact that, for once, the Union failed to get above the 90% threshold demonstrates that there is little enthusiasm amongst the membership for industrial action. Still, a significant majority is still all that is needed and that's what they got.
What happens now is that the Union is in a position, at any time, to halt negotiations and call a work stoppage. Under California law the work stoppage does not necessarily come into immediate effect. The comany can seek an injunction requiring the Union to hold off for, what is normally referred to as a "Cooling Off" period. During this time it is hoped negotiations can continue and a deal reached.
Here's the rub; if the union call a strike and the management ask for a cooling off period, the timing is such that the walk out could be delayed until December, just in time for Christmas. That is a two-edged sword. No-one wants tp strike just before Christmas, the most expensive time of the year for most of us. It is also traditionally the busiest time of the year for public transport. No buses or trains on the run up to Christmas would leave Los Angeles in chaos. Los Angeles has a thriving garment district, jewellery district, Toytown that supplies a wide range of children's gifts at wholesale prices and Broadway with it's varied stores from exotic perfumes to electrical goods. Every Christmas Los Angeles is packed and so is public transport. Neither side of the table wants a strike. It is in nobody's interest, but this is L.A. and crazier things have happened.
Every three years the Union and Los angeles metro get together to work out the details of a contract. The contract sets out the wages and benefits for the next three years. So for the period of the contract, the company pays us and we agree not to take any industrial action. It's not a happy situation, it means that every three years we all put our lives on hold. vacations are only tentatively planned and it's hold off on that new car or new furniture because there may be a strike and any money you may have gets eaten up in just staying alive over the strike period.
The United Transportation Union has six locals (Branches) the chairmen of each local plus the general chairman form a "Committee of Adjustment" They meet with a team selected by upper management. Most of the people on both sides of the negotiating table are known to me personally and I have a high regard for them all. They are men and women of integrity, and I say that from personal experience. That can also mean that they will be stubborn when they are convinced they have the right of it. As things stand the dice could roll a number of ways. Which way is anyone's guess at this point but once again we are all holding our breath.